Chapter 198381447

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Chapter NumberXXXI
Chapter Url
Full Date1883-08-31
Page Number4
Word Count2185
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleEvening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)
Trove TitleThe House of White Shadows
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The Advocate did not immediately return to hit* study. Darkness was more oongeni&l to his mooa, aad he spent a lew minutes in the gardens of the riH&. Although he had eta tod to Arthur B&lcombe that the conversation which had passed between them hod been of benefit to him, he felt, now that he was alone, that there was inach in it to give rise to thought and conjecture. He had not foreseen the difficulty in social intercourse of avoiding the subject uppermost in his mind. A morbid selfconsciousness. at present in ita germ and from which he had hitherto been entirely free, soemed to unlock all wards in its direction. It was, as it were, the converging point of thought and conversation. Having put the seal upon his resolution with respect to Uautran's oonfoariop, he became painfully aware that he had committed himself to a line of action from whioh he could not now recede with oat laying himself oj>eo to such suspicion, from friend and foe alike, as might fatally injure his reputation. He waa a lawyer, and he knew what powerful use he oouid make of such a weapon against any man high or low. If it ocrald oe turned against another, it could bo turned against himself. He must not, therefore, waver in his resolution. Only nfe conscience could call him to account. WeU. he would reckon with that. It was a paaBive, not an active accuser. Gautran would seek some new locality, In which he would be lost to sight. As a matter of common prudence it was more than Likely he would change his name. The suspicion which attached itself to him, and the aversion with whioh he was regarded in the neighbourhood in which be had lived, would comDel him to fly to other pastures. In this ana in the silence of time lay the Advocate's safety, for every day that passed would weaken the fever of excitement created by the trial After a few weeks^ if it even happened that (Jantran were insanely to make a public declaration of his guilt, and to add to this confession a statement that the Advocate was aware of it during the trial, by whom would he be believed ? Certainly not by the majority of the better class of people. And with what effect* In the event of such a contingency he could auoto with effect the poet's words, " Be thou chaste as ice, and pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny?" So much, then, for himself? but he was more than ever anxious, and ill at ease regarding Arthur Balcombe. The secret, which his friend dared not divulge to him. was evidently of the gravost import, probably as terrible in its way as that which lay heavily on the Advocate's soul; and the profound mystery in which it was wrapt invested it with a significance so unusual, even in the Advocate's varied experience of human nature, that he could not keep from brooding upon it. Was it a secret m which honour was involved? He could not bring himself to believe that Balcombc could bo guilty of a dishonest act; but a man might be dragged into a difficulty against his will, and might have a burden of shame unexpectedly thrust upon him, which be could not openly fling off without disgrace. And yet—and yetthat he should be so careful in concealing it from the knowledge of the truest of friendsit was inexplicable. Ponder as long as he might, the Advocate oould not arrive at an explanation of it, nor could his logical mind obtain the slightest cine to the mystery. The cool air in the gardens refreshed bim. and he walked about, always within view of the lights in his study windows, with his bead unbared. It was during the firet five minutes of his solitude that an impression

stole upon him that be was not alone. He searched the avenues, he listened, bo asked aloud, " Is any person near, and does he wish to sneak to me No voice answered bim. The gardens, with the exception of the soft rustling of leaf and branch, were as silent as the grave. Towards the end of his solitary rambling, and as he was contemplating leaving the grouuda, this impression again stole upon bim. Was it the actual sound of rnutned footsteps, or the spiritual influence of an nnsccn presence, which disturbed him? He could not decide. Again he searched the c venues, again he listened, again he asked a questiou aloud. All was silent; no voice answered him. This was the third time during the night that he had allowed himself to be beguiled. Once in Arthur Balcombe's room, when he thought he heard a laugh, and now twice in the solitude of the grounds. He set it down as an unreasoning fancy, springing from the a^itatiou into which lie had been thrown by his interview with (iautran, aud he breathed a wish that the next fortnight were passed, when his miud would almost certainly have recovered its equilibrium. The moment the wish was born he smiled in coutempt of his own weakness. It opened another vein in the psychological examination to which he was subjecting himself. He entered his study, and did not perceive Gautran. who was asleep in the darkest corner of the room. But his quick observant eye immediately fell upon the glass out of which Gout ran had drunk the wine. The glass was on his writing table; it was not there when he left his study. He glanced at the wine bottles on the sideboard ; they had been disturbed. " Some person has been here in my absence," he thought, "who, and for what purpose?" He hastily examined his manuscripts, and missing none raised the wine-glass and held it moutn downwards, AS a couple of drops of liquor fell to the ground be heard behind him the sound of heavy breathing. An ordinary man would have let the gla&B fall from Lis hand in sudden alarm, for the breathing was so deep, and strong, and hoarse, that it might have proceeded from the throat of a wild beast who was preparing to spring upon him. But the Advocate was not easily alarmed. He carefully replaced the glass, and wheoled in the direction of the breathing. He saw the outlines of a dark form stretched upon the ground in a distant corner; he stepped towards it, and, stooping, recognised Gautran. He was not startled. It seemed to be in keeping with what had previously transpired that ftautran should be lying there, slumbering at his feet. ~He fctood quite still, regarding the sleeping figure of the murderer in silence. He had risen to his full height; one hand rested upon the back of a massive oak chair, the carvings of which represented uncouth and monstrous aniipfllfi; his face was grave and pale: his bead was downwards bent. ( So be Btooa for many minutes almost motionless. Not the slightest agitation was observable in him ; he was calmly engaged in reflecting upon the position of affairs, as though they related not to himself but to a client in whose case lie WQS interested, and he was evolving from them in a perfectlv natural way aod by perfectly natural reasoning the most extraordinary complications and results. In all hi* ex|>criencc he had never been engaged in a case presenting so many rare possibilities, and he was in a certain sense fascinated by the powerful uac he could make of the threads oi the web in which ho had become so strangely and unexpectedly entangled. Gautran's features were not clearly visible to him—they wore too much in shadow. He took from his writing-table a lamp with a soft, strong light, and set it near to the sleeping man. It brought the ruffian into full view. His unshaven face, his coarse, matted bair, hiB brutal, sensual mouth, his bushy eyebrows, his large oars, bis bared neck, showing part of his hairy breast, his soiled and torn clothes, the perspiration in which he was bathed, presented a spectaclc of human degradation as revolting as any the Advocate had ever gazed upon. " By what means," ho thought, " did this villain obtain information oi my movements and residence ? and what is his motive in coming here ? When he accosted me to-night be did not know whero I lived; of that! am convinccd, for he had no wish to meet me, and believed ho was threatening auothor man than myself on the high road. That w as a chance meeting. Is this also a chance encounter! No; there is premeditation in it. Had he entered another house he would have laid his hands on something valuable and decamped, his purpose Ixjing served. He would not dare to rob me, but he dares to thrust his company upon me. Of all men I am the uiau he should be the most anxious to avoid, for only I know him to be guilty. Have I created a monster, who is destined to be the terror and torture of my life ? Is ho shrewd enough, clever enough, cunning cnough{ to use I lis power as 1 should use it were 1 in his place and he in mine ? That is not to be borne—but what is the alternativ I could put life into the grotesque oaken features upon which my band Is resting, and they might sutgest a remedy. The branches of the tree within which these faces grew in some old forest waved doubtless over many a mystery, hut this in which I ain at present CDgaged matches the deepest of thcvi. Sturdy ana proud old oak, once so green and majestic, had you possessed the power of prophecy it would h:\vi- ainn/.i'd you to know that the day would eotm> when yon would be carvel into the image- of dead faces. Some devil is whispcriuu utmy elbow. Speak, then; whit would you urge ino to do?" The V use n < Sau tron entered unobnod." The Advocate-" That is apparel or he I

would not be lying here, with the h&nd of Fate above him. The Unseen—" No person uv him—no person is aware that he is in your study—at yonr meiw." The Advocate—" At my mercy t You could bave found a bettor word to erpreis your meaning. H The Unseen—" You know him to be a murderer." The Advocate—" True." The Unseen—"He deserves death. You bave already heard the whisperings of the voice which orged you to fulfil the Divine law. Blood for blood." Toe Advocate—" Speak not of what is divine. Devilish tempter, have you not the oourage to come straight to the point ?" The Unseen—" Kill him where he lies 1 He will not be missed. It is night—black night. Every living being in the house, with the exception of yourself, ia asleep. You have twisted justice from its rightful course. The wmi^you did you can repair. Kill him The Advocate—"And have the crime of murder upon my soul f' The Unseen—" It is not murder. Standing as you are standing now, knowing what you know, you are justified. What you call a crime will be absolution." The Advocate—" I will have no juggling. If I Kill him, it is not in the cause of justice. Speak plainly. Why should he die at my The Unseen—" His death is necessary for your safety." The Advocate—" Ah, that la better. No talk of justice now. We come to the coarse selfishness of things, which will justify the deadliest of crimes. His death is necessary for my safety 1 How am 1 endangered f Say that his presence here is a threat ? Am I not strong enough to avoid the peril? Great God I how vile I am that I should allow such things to suggest themselves 1 Arthur, my friend, whatever is the terror which has taken possession of you, and from which you vainly strove to fly, your soul is pure in comparison with mine. If it were possible that the secret which oppresses you concerned your dearest friend, concerned one whom perchance it has in soma hidden way wronged, how could I withhold from you pity ana forgiveness, knowing how sorely my own action needs pity and forgiveness ? For the first time in my life it seems to me as if I were brought face to face with my soul, and I we how base it is. Has my life, then, been surrounded by dreams—ana do I now awake to find how low and abominable are the inner workings of my nature ? I must arose this monster. He snail hide nothing from me," He spurned Gautran with his foot It was no gentle touch, aod Gautran sprang to bis feet, and would have thrown himself upon the Advocate had he not suddenly recognised him. .